News & Info/Headlines
Those interested will find this year's full mini-camp schedule published on NFL.com.
We'll start working in more info on this year's crop of incoming rookies as they start showing their mettle during those upcoming sessions. But the focus this week remains heavily on the veterans. ...
We'll get the ball rolling in San Diego. ... As North County Times beat writer Jay Paris advised readers earlier this month, LaDainian Tomlinson hears the talk. He's heard the off-season rumblings of Chargers fans angered by the loss of Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees.
"I say if we don't win this season, they should be upset," Tomlinson said. "But give us a chance to prove that we are winners."
Tomlinson's patient approach belies the fact he was among Brees' most ardent supporters.
"Drew went through hard times at one point here, and he was a guy that never pointed the finger at anybody," Tomlinson said. "He said, 'You know what, I'm going to play better and not talk about it -- that I'm worthy of being the quarterback and leading this team to an AFC West championship.'
"That is the reason the guys loved Drew so much."
Tomlinson revealed a recent conversation with Will Demps, the Giants safety .
"He was saying, 'I met Drew, and he's such a good guy. I understand why you would want him at quarterback. After five minutes of talking to him, I understand this is what a quarterback is supposed to be like,'" Tomlinson said. "That is just a perfect explanation."
The bigger question, of course, is whether the Chargers, a third-place finisher at 9-7 in 2005, can improve with a new quarterback under center?
"That's yet to be seen; I really can't tell you right now," Tomlinson admitted. "I do know we are a little bit more experienced, talking in terms of the young guys. We have the potential to already be better."
But as Paris suggested, potential is a frequent word escaping the Chargers' lips, especially when the discussion turns to Brees' replacement, Philip Rivers.
Rivers was a North Carolina State star but has four fewer NFL touchdown tosses than Tomlinson.
Asked specifically about Rivers, Tomlinson was positive but cautious.
"We both understand it's all about winning. That's all he is about, and that is great to know," Tomlinson said. "He's not one of those guys who said, 'That's great I'm a starter, I can't wait to start partying and being the star.' That's not what he was talking about, so we are on the same page."
As for how Rivers -- a first-round draft pick -- handled his apprenticeship under Brees, Tomlinson was clearly impressed.
"Not once did Philip ever complain in the locker room about wanting to play more. Not once," the star halfback explained. "Instead he was out on the football field, telling [Antonio] Gates, Keenan [McCardell] and Drew what he saw. What I've learned about Philip is that he is a team player."
When Paris pointed out that few first-year starting quarterbacks avoid the NFL's humbling learning curve, Tomlinson argued the learning curve can be minimized by running the ball more and Rivers relying on his supporting cast.
"I really feel like we have a good enough team with the guys around Philip," Tomlinson said. "There's our defense, the running game, a good tight end. We can take a lot of the pressure off of him. He won't have to do a lot.
"And look at his pedigree. He was what, the winningest quarterback in ACC history? He knows how to win, and he has all the guys around him. That's the reason I'm optimistic about him."
I'm optimistic about Rivers, too. ... Not especially confident -- but definitely optimistic. ...
In a related note. ... Gates is spending extensive time with secondary coach Brian Stewart in hopes of gaining a better understanding of defenses.
Stewart is taking Gates through an in-depth study of defensive coverages and teaching him how to recognize how opponents are trying to cover him.
"I'm entering my fourth year in this league and I feel like there's so much more I have to learn about the game," Gates said.
Considering he's coming off a year in which he led all NFL tight ends in receptions (89), receiving yards (1,101) and touchdowns (10), that Gates believes that getting into the minds of those trying to cover him will help him get even better -- and that he's willing to go the extra mile to do so -- has to be music to Fantasy owners' ears. ...
In Jacksonville. ... The Jaguars will hold their first mini-camp next weekend -- May 12-14. And as Florida Times Union beat man Vito Stellino noted, since the formal mini-camp is the only mandatory session of the offseason, all players -- including Fred Taylor, who is working out on his own in Miami in the offseason -- are expected to attend.
But that's about as certain as it gets when it comes to Taylor.
In fact, in an article published Wednesday, Stellino suggested that if rookie running back Maurice Drew, drafted in the second round out of UCLA, proves he can combine with Greg Jones to form the Jaguars' 1-2 running back punch, team officials could decide they don't need Taylor and his $2.55-million salary.
Which lends credence to the wisdom of Taylor's new philosophy. As Times-Union staffer Bart Hubbuch reported last month, turning 30 this year gave Taylor what he describes as a new perspective on both his career and the Jaguars.
It is a more cynical outlook, one that has prompted Taylor to bypass the team's voluntary off-season conditioning program and caused the Jaguars' all-time leading rusher to wonder about the team's plans for him.
"There are 31 other teams in this league, and I'm good enough to play for somebody," Taylor said last month. "I'm going to do what I need to do to take care of myself, and they're going to do what they have to do to take care of the organization. It's a business. If somebody were to fall into free agency that was better than me, they would snatch him up in a heartbeat, and I would be on the street.
"I would love to end my career here, but I know how it goes. Emmitt [Smith] wanted to end his career in Dallas, but it doesn't always work out. What someone says can be a lot of hot air, so I'm going to take care of Fred first."
Taylor was referring to comments by Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver and head coach Jack Del Rio since the end of last season that indicated Taylor would be welcomed back despite missing five games because of injuries -- his highest total since 2001.
But after watching the Jaguars draft a running back in the first four rounds each of the past three years, Taylor isn't buying it.
"It's an unloyal business," he said. "If they say something, it doesn't necessarily mean you mean it a week later. It's all hot air until it happens."
Taylor flew back to Jacksonville on April 10 to tell the team of his plans, which he said were greeted coolly by Del Rio.
"[Del Rio] wanted the camaraderie," Taylor said. "Like any other head coach, he wants the players to be here in the offseason. But the offseason [program] is not mandatory."
Asked his reaction to the Jaguars' response, Taylor said: "Sometimes, you've just got to deal with it. It's a business, and they make it a business first."
Taylor is planning to attend the team's mini-camp and on-field workouts.
"I'll be back here to take care of all the football stuff, but as far as getting my body to where I want it and feeling good about myself, [working out away from the team is] what I'm going to do," he said. "I'm just trying to take care of myself."
According to Hubbuch, Taylor appears to have taken good care of himself already this offseason.
He was noticeably trimmer at between 225 and 230 pounds when he arrived in Jacksonville to meet with Del Rio last month, having dropped what he said was 8 pounds since the end of last year.
Hitting 30 can have that effect, he said.
"I've got to go above and beyond now that I'm 30," he said. "Once you turn 30, you've only got a little more time left. I feel better than I felt when I was 27 or 28. I'm just doing the smart things now to improve my longevity, because I really think I can play five or six more years. ..."
For what it's worth, both Del Rio and Weaver continue to tell everybody willing to listen that Taylor will be a Jag this season. Indeed, they insist the selection of Drew had nothing to do with Taylor, who will be a significant part of the team's offense this season.
"There are still only a few people in this league who can do what Fred does," Weaver said.
"I said that many times [that Taylor will make the team]. I've been very clear on that. We like Fred," Del Rio said. ...
We'll see how much they like Fred soon enough. ...
In Indianapolis. ... The Colts used their first-round pick in 1999 on Edgerrin James, and then nearly ran him into the ground. He logged 369 carries as a rookie, at the time the second-highest total in team history, then bumped his total to 387 the following season.
But according to Indianapolis Star beat writer Mike Chappell, Joseph Addai, the player expected to help fill the void created by James' departure via free agency, shouldn't anticipate a similar withering workload.
The Colts' offense probably will remain a one-back attack in 2006, with a twist. Addai, the 30th overall pick in the NFL draft, is expected to share time with veteran Dominic Rhodes.
"At least that's the way we see it now," Colts president Bill Polian said last Sunday. "You wouldn't expect a rookie to step right into a team like this. (With) a team that has been winning big, you'd expect him to play some, but not have to carry the whole load."
As Chappell explained, Colts fans have been accustomed to one running back being "the guy" since 1994. That's when the team selected Marshall Faulk with the second overall pick in the draft. When Faulk and James were healthy, they were the running game.
That approach to the running game hasn't been shared by the majority of teams in the league.
"It's a two-man position in virtually every other city," Polian said. "We see this as a two-man position right now."
Chappell went on to remind readers that head coach Tony Dungy had two quality backs at his disposal during much of his tenure with the Buccaneers -- Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott.
He was able to keep each fresh, and alter a game plan if one running back's strengths were better suited to attacking an upcoming opponent.
"I think Joseph's going to contribute for us in a lot of different ways," Dungy said. "We'll see what happens, when he's going to play and how much he's going to be able to contribute. ..."
In Denver. ... Don't look for any dramatic changes to the team's offensive approach this season -- especially when it comes to their rushing attack and their use of running backs.
In response to a fan e-mail -- asking if Tatum Bell is ready to be the team's No. 1 back and have a breakout year -- posted on the team's official web site, Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist toed the company line.
"I don't know that you necessarily have to have a No. 1 guy," Sundquist explained. "We rushed for over 1,900 yards last year in a rotation. To say that we want somebody that's going to carry the ball 25, 30 times a game -- my question is, 'What's the difference if the yardage is there?'
We ranked second in the league in rushing yardage behind Atlanta last year. You rank second in the NFL in rushing; you've got two backs that stayed healthy throughout the year; you have the speed/breakaway guy (Bell) who seems to be at his best when he carries the ball one to 10 times, and then you've got the power guy on the inside, and Ron [Dayne] will fill that role this year in place of Mike Anderson.
"I'm not saying that you don't want a No. 1 running back, so to speak, but I think we'll still be an effective offense in a rotational system."
In other words, it'll be business as usual this summer for Fantasy owners trying to get a solid feel for who Denver's most productive ball carrier might be this fall. ...
In Green Bay. ... Still recovering from injuries that limited them to only five games each in 2005, neither Ahman Green nor Najeh Davenport is participating in this weekend's mini-camp.
According to ESPN.com insider Len Pasquarelli, Green is still months away, however, from being fully recovered from the torn right quadriceps tendon that prematurely ended his 2005 campaign. Davenport probably needs at least another month before he is able to test himself after working to rehabilitate from a broken right ankle.
That leaves second-year veteran Sam Gado, the onetime undrafted free agent who led the team in rushing in 2005 with 582 yards and six touchdowns, as the most able-bodied veteran tailback. And even Gado, who is expected to practice, missed the final two games of last season with a knee injury.
Green Bay did not choose a running back among its NFL-high 12 selections in the draft last weekend.
Pasquarelli suggested that resurrecting the running game is a key to resuscitating Brett Favre, who is coming off a year in which he threw a league-high 29 interceptions, and an offseason in which he contemplated retirement.
New head coach Mike McCarthy is seeking a more balanced attack, one in which Favre is not called upon to shoulder so much of the burden, and having Green and Davenport healthy would be a big step forward in that regard. ...
In Carolina. ... Charlotte Observer staff writer Pat Yasinskas advised readers yesterday to forget that Keyshawn Johnson and DeAngelo Williams made their first appearance in Panthers uniforms at this weekend's mini-camp.
And pay no mind to the fact DeShaun Foster, still recovering from a leg injury he suffered in the playoffs, is limited to working on the sidelines with strength and conditioning coach Jerry Simmons. While head coach John Fox isn't willing to predict whether Foster will be ready for the team's June mini-camp or if they'll wait until training camp to get serious, those who follow the team closely believe the cautious approach is an indication of his importance to their overall offensive plan this fall. ...
Meanwhile, the player Yasinskas is most interested in is second-year halfback Eric Shelton.
Shelton has a lot to prove and, depending on what he does in the next few months, Yasinskas suggests he could end up being anywhere from having a productive role in the running game to a spot on the waiver wire.
For those who missed it. ... Shelton was a huge disappointment in training camp after the Panthers used a second-round pick on him last year. He seemed to have trouble grasping the offense and had problems picking up blitzes.
There was no way the coaching staff was going to give him any playing time if he couldn't protect the quarterback. But Shelton suffered a foot injury late in the preseason and was placed on the injured reserve list.
The injury might not have been enough to keep Shelton out all season, but the coaches decided it was the best thing to do for a rookie who wasn't ready to play.
Now, Shelton has had a year to watch and absorb the offense. According to Yasinskas, he also wasn't happy about sitting down last year and might use the experience as motivation.
Yasinskas added that Shelton needs motivation.
He has got Foster and Williams ahead of him on the depth chart. Kick returner Jamal Robertson also can contribute as a running back. Although Nick Goings was more of a backup fullback last year, he has demonstrated he can be a dependable running back and the team wants to take a long look at Casey Cramer as a possible backup for fullback Brad Hoover.
That puts Shelton on the hot seat. As Yasinskas summed up: "If he can step, he could have a valuable role as a short-yardage and goal-line runner. If not, he might not make the roster. ..."
In New York. ... Chad Pennington is expected to intensify his throwing during a voluntary passing camp that begins May 30, head coach Eric Mangini said last Sunday. It's uncertain how much Pennington, who is coming off his second rotator cuff surgery in as many seasons, will throw.
Pennington, who underwent surgery last February, began throwing in March.
As Newark Star-Ledger beat man Dave Hutchinson noted on Monday, Mangini has been reluctant and downright evasive in giving any updates on the quarterback's status, but he revealed that Pennington will be "involved" in the passing camp under medical supervision. It is believed that means Pennington will participate in some live drills.
The Jets have a rookie/first-year mini-camp beginning May 12 and Mangini said Pennington "may do some things" then.
In training camp, Pennington is expected to battle Patrick Ramsey for the starting job. Brooks Bollinger, Cliff Kingsbury and second-round pick Kellen Clemens are also on the roster.
"I think stockpiling quarterbacks is good business," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said.
I agree. And it's even better business when none of the quarterbacks currently on your roster -- including Pennington and Ramsey -- have managed to start a full 16-game season as professional signal callers. ...
In Cleveland. ... As Associated Press sports writer Tom Withers framed it Friday: "The Browns didn't have time to wait for Trent Dilfer's surgically repaired knee to completely heal or for his bruised ego to get better.
"They wanted to move forward -- with or without him. ..."
Dilfer, unhappy at the prospect of being Charlie Frye's backup, was traded on Thursday to the 49ers, where he'll be closer to home but will sit behind and mentor Alex Smith.
On Friday, Browns general manager Phil Savage insisted that Dilfer, who signed a four-year, $8 million deal with the Browns last year, did not demand to be traded.
"He never forced his way out of Cleveland," Savage said. "Trent never came to me and said, 'Hey, I've got to get out of here."'
Nonetheless, Cleveland tried to make a deal with Detroit for Joey Harrington during last week's draft before sending Dilfer to the 49ers for Ken Dorsey and a seventh-round pick in 2007.
Dilfer and offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon were at odds last season, but Savage said that relationship had no bearing on the trade.
"At some point, things got off the track at the end of last year," Savage said. "I'm not sure that we were able to get them back on track this spring. I'll say this, if you have a tire going down on your car, you are not going to wait for it to blow out. You are going to pull off and change the tire or pull into a gas station and get it fixed.
"That's really what we did. I think we've been very proactive in this. I wasn't going to wait until July and have Trent come to me and say that he couldn't do it anymore. That is really what the move is all about."
Meanwhile, Dilfer's departure clears the way for Frye, who went 2-3 as a rookie starter, to take over as Cleveland's No. 1 QB next season. "Charlie might have a leg-up in the starting battle," head coach Romeo Crennel joked. "Just to let you know. ..."
In San Francisco. ... According to San Jose Mercury News staffer Dennis Georgatos, mentoring Smith represents a major aspect of Dilfer's role with the 49ers, but it's not the only one.
"As much as it was about his experience and the mentoring, it's also about the playing," head coach Mike Nolan said of the newcomer. "He played 11 games last year. I hope he doesn't have to play that many this year for us, but if it happens, I believe he's fully capable and would do an outstanding job for us."
Dilfer, who's still rehabilitating from surgery in early February to repair a torn tendon in his right knee and likely won't be able to practice until organized team activities in June or summer training camp, has been both a starter and a backup over the course of his 12-year career.
He made the Pro Bowl while quarterbacking the Buccaneers, helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2000 and in recent seasons had a hand in the development of Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and Frye.
"The approach that I take, whether I was the starter or the backup, is you do whatever it takes to help your team win games," Dilfer said. "I will come in here and perform to the best of my ability. I'll work my tail off, like I always have, and by doing that, that will be mentoring Alex in itself."
For his part, Smith said he looked forward to working with Dilfer.
"Having talked to Trent, having talked to coach Nolan and knowing the situation here, I'm not threatened at all. I'm excited to kind of pick his brain and learn from him," Smith said. ...
In a semi-related note. ... Antonio Bryant, a recent free-agent acquisition, has been working with Smith on an almost daily basis since signing with the 49ers two months ago. They have been regulars on the practice field at 49ers headquarters after off-season workouts.
"We've hung out and done some things," Bryant said. "It's gotten better every week, just running the routes and understanding where the quarterback wants you to be. I think with camp, it's going to come into the full swing of things. ..."
Also according to Georgatos, rookie tight end Vernon Davis provided a glimpse of his potential during Friday's initial drills, reaching over safety Keith Lewis to catch a deep pass down the middle.
Davis said he's just scratching the surface.
"They've got some things I need to learn, but I'll pick it up in no time," he said. "I'm just ready to see the ball as much as possible because I'm pretty sure Norv Turner is going to put the ball in my hands so I can do some things out there on the field. ..."
With veteran tight end Eric Johnson (foot) among those missing this weekend's mini-camp -- Kevin Barlow (knee) and Frank Gore (shoulders) are also sitting out, Davis is getting every opportunity to show teammates why coaches are so high on him.
The 6-3, 254-pound Davis possesses uncommon speed at his position. He would have ranked as one of the fastest wideouts in the draft after running an extraordinary 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in February.
Nolan added that Davis had the strength -- 33 repetitions of 225 pounds at the combine -- to be a good blocker but also could line up in the backfield as an "H" back or be split wide as a receiver.
He also said the 49ers were prepared to feature both Davis and Johnson, the team's receiving leader in 2004, at the same time. But make no mistake about it: The Niners didn't draft Davis to watch from the sidelines this fall. ...
In Dallas. ... Bill Parcells says he's happy to have Terrell Owens on the Cowboys -- even if it took him 48 days to do so. A news conference Friday afternoon marked Parcells' first comments to local media since Owens joined the club March 18.
Sitting down at the start of the gathering, he smiled at the dozen or so cameras facing him and said, "Well, let me see what you want to talk about here."
According to AP sports writer Jaime Aron, the first question obviously was about Owens and the response wasn't exactly seven weeks in the making: "He's a good, productive player, has been for a long time," Parcells said. "I've seen quite a bit of him. I think he can help us."
Owens hasn't been taking part in the full off-season conditioning program at team headquarters, but Parcells said, "He's done exactly what I wanted," explaining that he wanted Owens to take care of some other matters first so they wouldn't be in the way later.
"I'm not giving him special leeway," Parcells said.
Parcells said he liked what he heard from several people who know Owens. He especially liked the fact Owens "responds to competition."
"If the answer to that question was no, then I probably would've had a problem with bringing him here," Parcells said. "Everyone I consulted on that -- which was people who know, not guess, know -- were very positive in that regard."
As for all the off-field incidents that have dogged Owens, speeding his departure from San Francisco and Philadelphia, Parcells said: "I think this thing has taken on a life of its own with him. ... I don't really know whether that's true or not.
"My best guess is it really is a little exaggerated. ..."
Surprisingly enough, Parcells managed finish that sentence with s straight face. ...
In Miami. ... Quarterback Marcus Vick, invited to try out this weekend -- without being offered a contract -- made his debut with the Dolphins on Friday, but head coach Nick Saban said the relationship might not last long.
"It's a date," Saban said after being peppered by a series of questions about Vick. "We're not getting married."
It's doubtful that more than a handful of the 62 players who participated in the first day of the team's rookie mini-camp will have a long-term relationship with the Dolphins.
Vick is the highest-profile player among the 62 participating in the team's rookie mini-camp this weekend a group that includes former Rams offensive lineman-turned-tight end Kyle Turley.
In fact, Miami Herald staffer Jason Cole suggested the 6-5 Turley, who looked downright graceful and had perhaps the most impressive day of anyone, has trimmed to 260 pounds after being well over 300 for most of his career. ...
All right. ... That's all for this now. Look for the Notebook to move back to Sunday next weekend.
In the meantime, keep an eye on the News & Views section of this site for late-breaking news and other items of interest. Watch the Headline News section for more in-depth reviews of current events -- including the Fantasy Notebook.